Pollination

by Aaron S. Gallagher

“I’m sorry to bother you,” he said, “but you have very kind eyes.”

That’s a new one, she thought. “Oh?”

“Yes. I wanted to tell you that. Would you like to have a coffee with me?” He had an affable smile, tousled short brown hair, and remote but kind green eyes.

She smiled, touched her curly black hair at the nape of her neck, but said, “I’m meeting friends.”

“Certainly. Of course. I could help you wait,” he offered. She looked him up and down. He held out a hand; it was clean and his nails were in good order. “I’m Michael.”

She took his hand and shook with him. “Margie.”

“Lovely to meet you, Miss…” he trailed off with raised eyebrows.

She grinned. “Baldwin,” she consented. “Margie Baldwin. Smooth.”

“Lovely to meet you, Ms. Baldwin. I’m Michael Hancock. Would you like to sit with me?” he gestured to the table in front of the coffee shop. Around them, London bustled by. “We could watch for your friends.”

“I guess so,” she said. He held her chair out for her, a gesture she wasn’t accustomed to. He even pushed it in. He sat across from her and raised a hand to the waiter. After they ordered, he said, “Friends?”

“Pardon?”

“You said waiting for friends. Not a boyfriend or a husband? A woman with eyes like yours, I find it impossible to believe.”

She arched one eyebrow. “To the point, aren’t you?”

His face showed good humor, and he said, “Merely asking. Not asking.”

She narrowed her eyes. “That’s a line if I’ve ever heard one.”

“Not really,” he said. “Promise.”

Their coffee arrived, and they went through the customizations. After a sip, she said, “And you? No girlfriend or wife?”

His face seemed remote. “No,” he said.

She pointed at the ring on his finger. He didn’t try to hide it or look guilty about it. He touched it with his thumb, a movement that seemed practiced. “Not anymore,” he amended.

“Turn you in on a new model?” she asked. “Or was it you that traded up?”

“Neither,” he said. He took a deep breath. “I had two perfect years. Two perfectly perfect years. And then two that weren’t so perfect. And now that’s over.”

She frowned. “What happened?”

“What do you do?” he asked.

“I’m a secretary.”

“No,” he corrected with a grin, “that’s your job. What do you do?”

She half-smiled. “I paint.”

“What do you paint, Margie Baldwin?”

“Watercolors. Landscapes,” she conceded as if confessing. “I like to paint landscapes.”

He nodded. “Joanna was a physicist.”

“Joanna?”

His face became reverent. “Joanna Marie Dellacorte Hancock,” he said carefully and his eyes brightened. “My wife. She was a physicist. It was what she did and what she did. She loved her work. Loved her job. She was going to make the world better. Safer.”

“What happened?”

“She was young. Young and full of life and hope and dreams… and willing to believe her employer when they made assurances about such things as safety precautions and equipment.”

She swallowed. “But what happened?”

“Cancer,” he said.

“Oh. I’m sorry. Er, what sort of cancer, if I may ask?”

He gave her a tired, gentle smile. “All of them, I think.”

She sighed and said nothing. They sipped their coffee as the moment passed. 

“What do you do, Michael?”

His smile elevated several notches “I travel.”

“Travel?”

“Yes. You see, one night over a gourmet dinner of grilled cheese and tomato soup Joanna and I made a list of places we thought we would like to see together. And since you don’t have to budget a dream, we thought big. When everything was over and her employer was forced to admit that perhaps their safety precautions had been lacking, I found I had the means. And so I travel. Every place on our list,” he said.

“Oh,” she smiled. “How many places have you been?”

“All of them,” he told her.

“You just travel?”

“I travel. I went to every place on that list. And when I got there, I found a person with kind eyes. Eyes like yours. Eyes like hers. And I told them her story. I told them her name. And so, there are hundreds of people out there in the world who know who she was. Who know her name. Just as you do.”

She swallowed the lump in her throat. “That’s lovely,” she said.

He nodded. He checked his watch and said, “It’s time to go. You’re waiting on friends.”

“It’s okay,” she said. “You don’t have to go.”

“I do,” he assured her.

“Where are you going next?”

He stood, took several bills from his wallet, and laid them on the table. “It was lovely to meet you, Ms. Baldwin. Thank you. Thank you for coffee, and for talking with me.”

“Where are you going next?’ she asked again, rising with him.

He put his hands in his pockets. “Good evening,” he said. With a slight bow, he turned and walked down the street, blending into the crowd. And he was gone.

She sat, staring at the place where he had vanished. She sat there until her friends found her. They sat. “Hello,” Kate said, waving a hand. “Earth to Margie. Earth to Margie. Come in, Margie.”

Margie blinked at Kate and Della. “Oh. Hi.”

“Where were you?” Della asked. 

“Hmm? Oh,” Margie mused, frowning, “there was- there was a man…”

“OoooOOOH,” Kate cooed. “A maaayun.”

“It’s not like that,” Margie insisted. She considered. “He was married.”

“Margie!” Della scolded.

“No, no,” Margie said. “It was… he was…”

She stared into the crowd, searching. “Her name,” she said, “was Joanna. Joanna Marie Dellacorte Hancock. And she was a physicist…”

Category: Featured, Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing